After inhabiting a palatial executive suite known as the "God Pod" for more than 25 years, Exxon Mobil's top brass is downsizing to less-celestial chambers.
In a part-symbolic, part-practical move for the oil company, Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods and his top lieutenants are packing up their Dallas-area offices for a move this summer to a C-suite now under construction at a campus outside Houston, according to people familiar with the matter. The new office is intended to be at least a bit more egalitarian and economical, in keeping with the company's recent pledges to be leaner, the people said.
The differences between the two offices are stark. The current headquarters building is designed in part to telegraph Exxon's global reach—with Anigre wood paneling and staircases from Africa, a lobby floor of French limestone, granite columns from Madagascar and a slate roof quarried in Wales. Tucked behind a thick-wooded area and glimmering ponds, it is hundreds of miles from where most of the rank and file work.
The new executive wing will be more modest, part of Exxon's efforts to cut billions of dollars in costs , some of the people familiar with the matter said. The cost-cutting is partly a response to investors who have pressed the company to streamline expenses and become more efficient, particularly after the pandemic-induced oil-market crash of 2020 led to a historic annual loss.
The new executive wing will take up two floors on the 385-acre, glass-dominated corporate campus, which can accommodate around 10,000 employees. The aesthetic will be modern, with ample open space to encourage collaboration, the people familiar with the matter said.
Construction of the executive floors is expected to finish before the leadership team's move to the Houston area. PHOTO: Meridith Kohut for The Wall Street Journal
The offices and conference rooms of the God Pod executive wing—as it has long been called by employees and people throughout the industry—was a total of about 20,000 square feet, according to journalist Steve Coll, author of "Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power." It only housed a handful of executives and their assistants.
A private chef regularly cooked elaborate meals for executives and their guests, according to people who visited the office. The Irving, Texas, office recalls the feel of a high-end hotel built in the 1990s, photos reviewed by The Wall Street Journal indicate.
The offices housed part of Exxon's large collection of paintings, sculptures, photography and prints, many of which the company inherited from Mobil in their 1999 merger.
While the new wing won't include a designated dining room or chef, some executive perks will remain, including private elevators, along with security features such as bulletproof windows and exclusive access to a garage, according to people familiar with the new office.
Perhaps most symbolically, for the first time in a generation, Exxon's highest-ranking officials will share a campus with a major portion of the company's U.S. employees.
Exxon sold the Irving property in December for an undisclosed price to an Austin, Texas, real-estate investment firm. It announced in early 2022 plans to make the Houston-area campus, located in a suburb known as Spring, its global headquarters this year.
Construction is expected to finish ahead of the management team's move to the Houston area in July.
The God Pod dates to the mid-1990s, when Exxon relocated its global headquarters to the Dallas area from its offices in Manhattan. The move positioned the company closer to the oil industry's stamping ground in Texas and in a cheaper real-estate market.
The God Pod allowed for tight security and served to impress guests. The building, located in a massive commercial development known as Las Colinas, was surrounded by more than 200 acres of undeveloped land.
Former Chief Executive Lee Raymond, who led Exxon's acquisition of Mobil, was the first to helm the company from the God Pod.
Mr. Raymond's successor, Rex Tillerson, navigated the advent of U.S. shale, the more than $30 billion acquisition of XTO Energy and the construction of the Spring campus, from the same lofty perch. He left in 2017 to become the Trump administration's first secretary of state, and Mr. Woods took over.
Access to the executive wing has long been tightly controlled. Even the top executive of the property's new owner, Capital Commercial Investments, said he hasn't yet entered it.
Doug Agarwal, founder and president of CCI, said the word "budget" might never have been uttered in the construction of the Irving offices. "The reproduction cost of the asset far exceeds $1,000 a square foot," Mr. Agarwal said, a figure that he said would make it one of the most valuable buildings in Texas.
"I've been to Versailles and I've been to Buckingham Palace and I've been to the Vatican, and this one, although it was built for a specific use, it's as nice a finish as you can find anywhere," Mr. Agarwal said.
It couldn't be determined how much of Exxon's art collection will make the move to the Houston area.
Some pieces in its large corporate collection have been auctioned, and some by well-known midcentury artists have been displayed at the Houston-area campus, according to people familiar with the matter. Also on display are pieces of the oil giant's history, such as Mobil's lofty red Pegasus logo and decades-old fuel pumps.
The company is combining business units and has begun to overhaul the way employees work on campus. Some teams are now working in closer proximity in spaces it calls collaboration neighborhoods, wherein employees choose new spots to work each day, a practice known as hot desking. It is also looking to lease or sell unused office space .
Exxon's move to more-open executive offices underscores a cultural shift among oil companies to reshape their workplaces to encourage collaboration. The changes are in line with recent trends in office design. If done right it could help build trust with workers, said Lauri Goodman Lampson, CEO of the architecture firm PDR, which has worked with Exxon and other oil companies on the design of large office spaces.
"When your executives are in the thick of things with you, and they're doing the things they're saying we should all do, that cements loyalty and gets people on board with the mission," she said.